“Oh hi, Finn. Say hi to Finn, Ada,” the mom gently instructed her one-year-old as our children climbed around each other on the gym mats.
“This is Lochlan …” I said with a small smile.
Her cheeks blushed, “I’m so sorry,” as she scrambled to catch her wobbling toddler, “He looks just like a Finn …”
I looked down at L as he ducked through a tunnel and smiled at me on the other side. He does look like a Finn too. A little spunky with a slight tint of auburn to his brunette locks that are just starting to push through and curl. Rounded cheeks, long lashes, and a full toothed smile at only 15 months.
She tried to continue to apologize and say something about still getting to know the kids, etc. But I stopped her with a smile.
“Actually, I had a Finn – Finnian,” the name felt at home in my mouth, “we lost twins before him. So Finnian was his brother.”
“Oh I am so …” she started but I stopped her, “no … thank you … I imagine they would look a like so it’s nice to hear.”
The gym teacher, who knows our story because we chat often, smiled and asked, “What was your daughter’s name again?”
“Maisie,” I said feeling full.
“Gosh you have such great names!” The teacher rubbed her pregnant belly and I felt proud.
You could tell the other mom was beginning to relax that she hadn’t actually made an awkward moment and that all was well. And we laughed about the kiddos trying to figure out the social graces of passing each other on the tumbling equipment.
I thought - I’m really doing okay at this mom and loss mom thing. The whole incident felt like a God-nudge, see they are still connected to L, they are all siblings.
I pushed the stroller up the sidewalk before slowing pace behind a mom and her son. Our little dog pulled forward a little like, hey let’s keep going.
The boy was holding his mom’s hand and swinging it around. With his backpack slung over her shoulder, she was listening to him chatter about his day. She peeked over her shoulder, “Oh there’s a little one behind us!”
“Excuse us we will just scoot around,” I said as she pulled to the side and we smiled. Her son poked his head into the stroller and exclaimed, “he’s so so cute, oh he’s so cute, I just love him.”
“Okay,” she said kind of pulling him back and giving me somewhat of a sorry and pleading look. I could tell he was somewhat precocious and probably prone to over-crowding others. So I smiled at him and said, “thank you he is so cute. You’re sweet.”
We pushed ahead and the boy shouted at us, “what’s his name?”
So I looked over my shoulder, “Lochlan and this is his friend Oreo.” He then asked my name so I told him while I continued to walk just a few steps ahead. The boy continued to chatter telling me his name, his mom's name, his dad’s name and his sister’s name.
“What a nice set of family names,“ I said. His mom looked at me grateful kind of shaking her head. L peeked around the stroller fascinated by the older boy. The air was perfect and nearly fall like. Other kids were zooming past on bicycles, backpack clad and heading home from school. Our little dog was trotting along with a happy pant.
“I assume your married, so what’s your husband's name?” The mom’s eyes widened and I kinda laughed. “Yes I am, his name is Daniel, pretty simple.”
“So Lochlan is a boy right,” they were side by side with us now on the sidewalk, “so does that mean he has a brother or a sister?”
“Oh,” my voice stuck as the boy looked right into my eyes, “he doesn’t have a brother or a sister ..” and it caught, here, I couldn’t get it out before his mom started to explain …
“That’s their first baby, see some families only have one and some just have one to start…”
I started moving faster ahead. I’m sure she thought I was running from them.
I was. But not because of him. Because of me. I pushed across the crosswalk and turned the corner as fast as I could. The air felt stuck in my lungs. I won’t hyperventilate.
I won’t say I made it home without tears streaming down my face. Or I didn’t pretend I was laughing when L turned around in the stroller. I won’t say that I didn’t talk to my husband and that my voice didn’t disappear into a fit of tears. I’m failing them. "Of course you aren’t," he reasoned, "you are doing what is right for the situation." He’s right - you can’t tell random kids on the street about dead babies. And L doesn’t know they were his siblings. He can’t comprehend that. May never. He IS growing up as the oldest child, essentially a first.
But the thought just sat in the pit of my stomach all day, I’m letting them disappear.
I can remember the first wave of grief after bringing L home from the hospital. I laid him down briefly in his crib and looked down on him. It hit me with such great force that I did not have siblings for him. I wept for his lost brotherhood. Raging postpartum hormones didn’t help me to put into perspective that we would try again. At this time, I had considered him our last, our youngest, our planned third.
But as he would grow and change and monopolize more and more of my time, the waves of grief would spread. I’d often take a deep breath and push across the surface of them, surfing into a place of joyfulness in order to parent my living son. Then, somewhere in the last few months, as his independence has increased little by little, I’ve had moments to feel the spray of water. I’ve had secret cry sessions in the bathroom. I’ve felt the absence of his siblinghood.
If things had been different, if they’d made it to term, Finnian and Maisie would be turning two this month. If things had been different I would’ve said, “Oh no, this is Loch, Finn is his older brother.” Or “He has a brother AND a sister, how fun.” If I close my eyes and imagine the three of them together the chaos seems delightful to me.
I’m not sure why I’m sharing these stories now other than to illustrate the ongoing nature of infant loss. After we lost our twins I sat across the office from a well-respected counselor that specializes in perinatal issues. And she reminded me that pregnancy and infancy loss falls under the category of ‘marginalized grief.’ Meaning the hidden or unexpected nature of it often pushes it to the outskirts – the experience is not uncommon but it is not mainstream either.
This particular type of grief is often quieted under guilt. My guilt stems from a nagging thought that somehow acknowledging it discounts the profound happiness that having our son here offers. I don’t talk about it as openly in my daily life anymore. Not in the way that I imagined I always would. I’m often afraid my grief will somehow make me seem ungrateful. Or that it will somehow shadow him.
I also don’t feel it in every moment like I used to. That acknowledgement carries with it a different kind of weight to process. But that’s just the reality of how time moves us forward. When the grief does come though, when it rushes in, it’s like torrential downpour again. Only to be lifted once more by the breeze of daily life. And so it goes and goes and goes.
People who parent after loss are heroes. Some already had children that they continue to care for and others go onto have children after their loss. Either way, I look at the bravery it takes to put one foot in front of the other, to love with your whole heart even when it is broken, and to be completely vulnerable again.
Children make us vulnerable in ways I couldn’t understand before going through the process of pregnancy … and loss … and pregnancy again. They stretch our human capacity for love to its limits, showing you what it truly means to love someone so much more than yourself. Someone who is their own person and will (hopefully) go on to live their own lives full of adventure and people. Or, as is my case and many others in the perinatal loss community, someone who wholly and completely steals your heart but whose life is out of your hands.
The utter vulnerability of it all can be terrifying. And yet, this is the human experience. Love and community and heartache and repair and repeat, repeat, repeat. Any loss mother I have talked to has told me the same thing, “I would do it again just to be able to love him/her.” I think that speaks to the power of the love over the loss' crippling pain.
Tomorrow I will be 25 weeks along with our son. He’s been kicking more noticeably lately. Swishing around alive, completely alive. We’ve had two growth scans so far to check on his progress and he remains on the big side (97th percentile!), which is a blessing in case he comes early. Each day that passes at this point adds an additional 3% survival rate. I celebrate him daily. I take moments throughout the day to really focus intention on my gratitude and joy about his life.
And now, as we pass more milestones of survival chances, the idea that I will get to parent him, actually parent him, becomes more and more a possible reality.
It’s this reality that has me looking around at all those parenting after loss. At the way they handle the biggest job in the world even when they’ve already lived the biggest fear in the job.
I was speaking with a mother who very recently lost her son midtrimester about how she was coming a long in these first months. Everything is jumbled and messy for her – when to take time to grieve, how to take care of her other daughters, how to move forward or not move forward. The familiarity of her grief is potent to me. But she also said that when her daughter is scared, she reminds her that her brother can help her be brave because she gets to do all the things he didn’t do. He will be there for them. He has not disappeared. He will be a reminder of grace and strength and bravery. Her ability to seamlessly blend this into conversation with her girls impresses me beyond end.
Another dear friend of mine lost a son midtrimester a year before our loss. She now has a second young son. Every time I see him he fills the room with joy. He is immeasurably joyous and adored. He shows the face of a child that comfortably knows his parents love him. And yet, my friend still yearns for her first son. She still wonders daily what it would be like to have them both. Each time she puts an outfit that she had purchased for him on her living son she tells him it is a hand me down from his brother. I love this. I know that one day she will run out of hand me downs, but the conversation will have been started. In a small way, the boys will be allowed to be siblings regardless of the distance between them.
I find these simple acts heroic. In the face of the greatest grief, with courage and humility and love, they continue forward. And not by replacing or forgetting or denying but by integrating and allowing space for their children and still feeling both sides of joy and pain.
I'm still thinking of ways to tell our son about his brother and sister. I’m still working through how to describe his mom’s ability to be completely in love with him and completely yearning for them. I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that he will not live as the youngest of three but an only child or the oldest (possibly). I’m still picking up the broken pieces of my heart so they don’t fall into his lap.
I can’t wait to meet him. Part of me believes that when I do, I’ll know better how to be the parent he needs. When I see his face, I’ll know how to do these things too. Because I will be their mother and his, and he will need different things from me. And I’ll use every bit of me to be the best for the three of them.
This is not the story I imagined for us. But this is our story.
Hi, I'm Tiffany. I believe in the power of stories to connect us to each other. I write about life after loss and all the love, longing, and learning that comes from it. Grief is big, love is bigger. My newest stories are about motherhood (after both infertility and loss). In my experience, love doesn't get bigger than motherhood.
© Tiffany Kann and Loss & Life, 2013-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tiffany Kann and www.lossandlife.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.